“What are human beings? Just different colored tokens on the board of life,” says the narrator of Ludo, who happens to be the film’s writer-director Anurag Basu. In his latest anthology with a twist of dark humour, Basu weaves in four stories using the metaphor of the board game in which a roll of the dice can affect the blue, red, yellow and green quadrants.

The director of Life…In A Metro (2007), Barfi! (2012) and Jagga Jasoos (2017) shared his insights into the colour-coded world of his latest feature, which will be streamed on Netflix on November 12.

So is ‘Ludo’ a film about chance and coincidences?
Not entirely. The initial thought was to make a light film that makes you smile; a film that does not take a moral stand. Plus, I wanted to juggle four to five genres in one film, which is a tough thing. At first I didn’t think I would be able to do it but when I began writing the script came together in 15 days and during that process I had made Ludo the motif of the film. Ludo was a metaphor which also became the title, and sometimes you don’t remember what came first.

It’s like conducting an orchestra, but conducting four different pieces separately. When you bring them together, there is a big risk of it becoming noise, and not a melody. I wanted people to enjoy the film as a whole film and not as four separate stories. So the factor of Ludo and a character who represents the dice, was important to seamlessly bind the narrative and guide the audience, through colour, to the next story.

What do the four colours symbolise?
Colour representation is different in every culture and society. Red is usually love and anger, which is Abhishek Bachchan’s story. Yellow to me is calm, happy, sunshine, which is Aditya Roy Kapur’s track. Rohit Saraf and Pearle Maaney are tinted blue, which represents optimism and purity whereas green is unpredictable and that is Rajkummar Rao’s story. Pankaj Tripathi is the dice who moves the story. There is a very subtle clue in the dice hanging from his necklace.

Pankaj Tripati in Ludo (2020). Courtesy Netflix.

You have a large ensemble cast. Did you have them in mind while writing?
I had written some parts with actors in mind. Some are friends, some are on your wishlist, sometimes you promise to collaborate with an actor. While writing, it is often easier if you can picture an actor in a character. For example, Pankaj Tripathi’s personality has come into Sattu. Pearle and Rohit were question marks, but most of the others were my first choice.

Rohit and Pearle’s track in particular has a lot of silences.
I love silence. I love the challenge of conveying emotions visually. That is the magic of cinema; otherwise it becomes a radio play. Through Rohit and Pearle’s story I had the opportunity to convey emotions through silence.

Although you had shot most of the film, what was it like finishing a film during lockdown?
It was very difficult, with things being done over email and calls. Pritam especially had a very difficult time doing the background music because that’s a very personalised process involving discussions and musicians jamming together. Obviously none of that could not happen.

Also though the songs had been picturised, Pritam is Pritam, so he was still making the music during that time. We also had a day’s shoot left and it was strange to go back on set with a crew around in PPE suits, masks and so on. It was a very weird shooting experience for me. I thought by the time the film releases, the world would be corona free, and that this would be a post-corona movie. So that’s why I have a line about the coronavirus in it.

Anurag Basu.

You have included some personal references too, such as Bhilai, the town where you grew up. What was the connection with the song ‘Kismat Ki Hawa’ from ‘Albela’ (1951)?
I always do it. I always look for every opportunity to mention Bhilai. Anyone from Bhilai will catch on to the little things, such as mention of Supela Chowk, and other things too. It’s lovely to connect with my Bhilayans all around the world through my movies.

As for the song, when I was writing the script, I wrote that Sattu travels in a van and in a circle to the side I had written this song title. I used to love this song, so either I could have made a song like it, with the same motifs of kismat and life, or then I could get the rights of the original song, which I managed to do.

You are known for not sharing your script with your actors beforehand. How does that work when the story is as enmeshed and tightly choreographed as ‘Ludo’?
It is tough to improvise a film like this. I believe that trust between the actor and the director is important. But the script had to be written before going on set. It’s true that I don’t give the actors all the details beforehand so they can come with an empty slate and create something on set.

It’s my drawback, not my arrogance, that I have a screenplay but I don’t commit to the scene till the last minute. This is because I am still getting ideas even as I am travelling to the set. I don’t know when to put a full stop. I keep improvising till the end. I am working on changing myself though.

What do you see yourself doing next? Any plans of returning to episodic content?
I would love to. I seriously want to do a web series. But I don’t know what is next. I am inside a dark tunnel without a torch. Maybe slowly there will be some light and I will see the walls.

One thing I do know is that in this pandemic, people are watching so much varied content and are becoming cinema-literate. This will put pressure on filmmakers and writers to give something new because the audience is exposed to all kinds of cinema now. Cinema will have to become storytelling and content heavy and not talent heavy, which will be an improvement.

Ludo (2020).